Let all bitterness, wrath, anger, clamor, and evil speaking be put away from you, with all malice. And be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God in Christ forgave you.
Ephesians 4:31-32 (NKJV)
Kindness. It is one of those words, like love, like forgiveness, like joy, of which you think you know the meaning, you just assume you do…until you meet God’s Word, in Jesus. Well, I am praying that He will open my eyes and heart to deeply know the meaning and the practice of kindness. It is closely related to forbearance which, as I mentioned in my first post (which I will link you to when I figure out how!), is my focus for the early part of this new year.
Recently, I studied kindness in a chapter of the book Feminine Appeal by Carolyn Mahaney. She quotes Jerry Bridges definition of kindness which is “a sincere desire for the happiness of others.” He differentiates kindness from goodness and describes goodness as “the activity calculated to advance the happiness of others.” So since kindness is more of an attitude, she talks about the things that can hinder kindness, specifically anger, bitterness, and judgment. As I read about these heart orientations, I saw myself more clearly and learned a great deal about the state of kindness in my heart. It is sorely lacking for these very reasons.
Anger is the first hindrance to kindness that she addresses. As Jesus says in Matthew 15:18, “what comes out the mouth proceeds from the heart.” As a hindrance to kindness, anger flows from a sinful desire for my own way. Carolyn Mahaney illustrates this with James 4: “Where do wars and fights come from among you? Do they not come from your desires for pleasure that war in your members?”. Harmony is broken and discord flourishes when I am angry that my desires are not being met. Then I am not kind. For example, I want my children to be obedient – ‘right away with a happy heart’ I have been chirping for years now! When they are not obedient (shall we say occasionally!?!?!) I can be angry and speak harshly and hurtfully to them. I do this when I am cherishing and pursuing my desires – even ones that are good, like perfectly obedient children – more than I cherish my children and pursue their good and God’s glory.
Thankfully, Carolyn offers biblical solutions to each hindrance. In this instance, she refers back to the passage in James 4, which concludes with the antidote to anger: to humble myself and submit to God. In all of this effort towards kindness, I am truly incapable of accomplishing anything but for the word and power of Christ. So I can at this time ask the Lord to show me my heart that I may know what it is I am so desiring that I am willing to be harsh and hateful, to sin, in order to acquire it. Then according to the trusted biblical pattern, I am to confess this sin – to God and to those I have offended – and to turn from the excessive and wrong desire. Now, without obstruction, I can then choose to think and act kindly.
Bitterness is the next hindrance to kindness. Bitterness arises when we hold onto the memory and nurture the hurt from the sin or offense someone else has made against us. Basically it is being unforgiving. Ephesians 4:31-32 admonishes unforgiveness and commands that “all bitterness… be put away from you…and be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another as God in Christ forgave you.” This has revolutionized my dealings with my husband and children. Rather than replay their lapses towards me, I remember and relish the unfathomable and undeserved forgiveness that has been granted me by God. I love the tenderness I then have towards my family in my thoughts and deeds as I put away bitterness and forgive them. Praise God!
Finally, Carolyn addresses judgment as a hindrance to kindness. This may be my greatest offense, and it refers to” looking for other’s faults and without valid and sufficient reason, forming unfavorable opinions of their words, actions or motives.” Basically, it involves looking for the worst in others. How I hate to write those words with the conviction that this is a pervasive habit of mine. John 7:24 calls me up short:” Do not judge according to appearance, but judge with righteous judgment.” Judging sinfully is a serious obstacle to kindness. First Corinthians 13:7 offers the beautiful remedy to this unloving pursuit: love “bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.” The remedy is to make loving judgments, to think the realistic best of people. It is with thanks to God that I am now able to teach my children to avoid sinful judgments and to look for the best in others – because He has been changing me!
There is so much more to explore about kindness and loving others according to God’s word and ways. I am thrilled to have this way to review and consolidate what the Lord is teaching me. I hope it encourages you also. Let me know how He is working in your lives. I would love to hear!